Saturday, March 19, 2011
The waiting game (also, Bog Suckers)
It was Tennyson, I believe, who wrote that "April is the cruelest month." (I think that comes from "Locksley Hall"?) Maybe in England that is true. Here in central Illinois, I would have to vote for March as the most sadistic. Almost, almost spring...but never quite there. One sunny day followed by four rainy ones...or a sunny day accompanied by strong winds. The temperatures are up...then down! All of this I could bear with good spirits in, say, late November, when a brisk wind and a chilly morning are still novelties of the season. But in March, I am just as apt to say, "Screw it," and retreat early, sick of feeling cold, sick of Not Quite Spring.
And thus, an average March week of a frustrated birder:
Monday. Chilly and windy. VERY windy, the way that the wind can only seem to whip across the prairie state. Birder is huddled inside workplace, until co-worker announces, "Did you see the swans on the pond?" Say what? Swans? By workplace? A sight worth seeing! Birder immediately declares break time, runs outside with binoculars (birder has cheap pair just to take to work and various other places not officially "birding" expeditions), and sees that yes, a pair of mute swans is paddling across the pond. Also a pair of wood ducks, which is a year bird. Hooray. Meanwhile wind is scissoring through Birder's body like a barrage of ninja stars, and swans or no swans, it is time to return inside. (But: year bird!)
Tuesday. Gray and drizzly. Depressing. Swans have left pond. Ditto wood ducks. Birder attempting to recover zest for life. Failing.
Wednesday. The sun is out! It's not even that cold! Also, after work Sugar Grove Nature Center is having a woodcock walk. Birder has even convinced husband "Greenturtle" to go, explaining how the American woodcock does an amazing mating display flying high into the air to impress his potential mates and who would not want to see such a thing?
"Is this the only day they do it?" asks Greenturtle.
"What? The woodcocks?"
"No, the Nature Center!"
"Oh, yeah, just today...."
First, there was a brief power point demonstration, in which Birder learned a few fun facts (such as, some people call woodcocks "Bog Suckers," due to their preference for marshy fields [although my all-time favorite folk name for a bird is still the "thunder-pumper," as the American bittern is sometimes called]...and they can eat their weight in earthworms each day...and the chicks are precocial, meaning they are more or less self-sufficient after hatching, like ducklings. A couple of years ago I twice saw a solitary chick of some sort dashing through the woods. Perhaps a woodcock?)...and then off to the fields.
After a few minutes of waiting, loud peenting sounds rose up from various points around our small group. Greenturtle recalled hearing these noises as a lad in Arkansas, and never realizing what sort of creature made them. As the twilight deepened, up flew...the woodcocks! And yes, they do fly up so far that they seem to be the merest speck against the sky (the nearly full moon helped us see them), then flapping down with an amazing susurrus of wings. Definitely a sight worth seeing! Also...a year bird!
Thursday: early to work, walked around pond. Downy and red-bellied woodpeckers, juncos still in residence, robins, blue jays and cardinals. One turkey vulture flapping over the trees, first sighting in the county for the year. (When you get into the "year county birds" you know you're a serious lister.) And then work. In front of the computer, at a desk, expected to sit (yes, SIT! Indoors, for hours!), while the day outside, though once again windy, is full of sun. And, surely, birds. Birder becomes depressed...the longing to move, the conviction that Life, beautiful Life, is rushing by outside and meanwhile birder is missing all of it.
By lunch hour, Birder feels so depressed that only another walk down to the pond makes any sense at all. Birder says hello to a guy with a British accent, who mentions all the Canada geese. Some young fellows are fishing...and the fish splashing exuberantly against the pond's surface. A brief look at American tree sparrows. Blue jays calling raucously. Coots bobbing, a flock of mallards taking flight with hysterical quackings. The half hour passes so quickly. Almost over...and now it is. Clocking in three minutes late.
Friday: a half day. And then the weekend. Cleaning house after work, then a walk through Ewing Park. Hoping for a brown thrasher; instead, fox sparrows. Well, they were exciting LAST week.
Today: one day of freedom, and the sound of a meadowlark. In that moment, nothing was lacking. Other than that...errands. Chilly and windy once again, oh March! In a fit of spite, stayed inside most of the day, reading a biography of Anne Sexton instead of birding. Thought: if Sexton had been a birder, would she have needed poetry? Second thought: at least someone was clearly crazier than own self, birds or no!
But...tomorrow is a new day. It might rain...if not, the quest for birds to be continued....